Saturday, February 27, 2016

song for the homecoming: Longtime by Salmonella Dub

It’s good to see you again my friend
It’s been a long, long time

Don’t you fall from grace
Be cool with your space
Check your place
In the race

Posted by steve at 07:53 PM

Thursday, February 25, 2016

It takes a church to raise a minister: Theology Matters SPANZ column

As Principal of KCML, I get to write a regular column for SPANZ, the quarterly magazine of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. Here is my column for Summer, 2016.

It takes a church to raise a minister

commitment-1578037-639x425 I am now three months into my placement as Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. My first day at KCML was also the first day at school for my daughter. We were “newbies” together. As we set off that morning, I found myself thinking of the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

The proverb reminds us of the importance of relationships. Healthy communities, whether schools, churches or ministry Colleges, offer a range of relationships. These relationships, at all sorts of levels, nurture growth. That is a positive take. Equally, there is a negative take. Unhealthy communities offer a range of relationships which, because of their dysfunction and inhospitality, bring decline.

At my first KCML team meeting, I shared this sense of being new and asked the question: “If it takes a village to raise a child, does it take a church to raise a minister?” The question grabbed the teams’ attention. We found ourselves digging into Scripture. We noted the importance of relationships in the cross-cultural shifts that occurred in the church of Antioch and found ourselves giving thanks for mothers and grandmothers in the raising of Timothy. We recalled with gratitude the individuals who had given each of us as lecturers’ opportunity in ministry. We noted how certain churches and certain ministers keep cropping up in the call stories at National Assessment Weekend. My colleague, Geoff New recalled his farewell from Papakura East and the words of the Session Clerk: “We would not be the people we are now becoming without your ministry and in some strange way you wouldn’t be going to your new job at Knox except for the journey of obedience to God you have been able to take among us and with us.” The notion that it takes a church to raise a minister was ringing true.

Theologically, Christians understand God in relationships. In the Gospels we hear stories of how Jesus relates to God and vice versa. In the Creed, we find images of “dynamic relations to characterize more specifically God’s ways of relating to us” (David Kelsey, Eccentric Existence). God relates to us to create us, to reconcile us and to draw us into the making of all things new. As Christians, we worship God in relationships.

At the risk of being simplistic, let me sketch two models of theology matters. One is an institutional model of education that expects KCML to train ministers. This model might elevate ordination. Theology matters, but it risks becoming the domain of certain people, who read certain textbooks and gain certain qualifications. Perhaps this creates someone who runs the village.

Another is a relational model of education that expects the PCANZ to train ministers. This model might elevate baptism. Theology matters for disciples, for all called to love God heart, soul and mind. Theological education belongs among the whole people of God, in song and in the workplace, across all the specified ministries of the church. KCML remains, as one part of the village that raises the disciple.

This has implications for all of us. If the African proverb is true and it does indeed take a village to raise a child then theology matters. Not for certain people in certain places, but for every disciple of Jesus, called in their baptism into the mission of God.

For discussion:
1. What Bible stories and images of God help you understand the proverb: “It takes a church to raise a minister?”
2. What are the implications – for congregations, for theological colleges and the PCANZ – of a relational model of education?

Posted by steve at 08:09 PM

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Could you return to your story? “hapkas” theology as personal experience

“Could you return to your story?”

It was a question asked as I finished a research presentation. I was interviewing to be Principal at KCML. The interview process began with me taking a 50 minute “mock” lecture to a group of “mock” students. It had gone well, apart from the jug of water for the lecturer, that developed a crack half way through, resulting in water gently easing under my laptop as I spoke. “As long as it is consistent for all those being interviewed” I quipped. The interview process then moved, after lunch with the interview panel, to a research presentation. Fifty minutes on some aspect of my current work, followed by 50 minutes of question and answer.

It was then that the question was posed. “Could you return to your story?” Puzzled, I asked for elaboration. “Well, you began your lecture this morning with your story, of growing up in PNG. So I’m asking what might happen if you returned in your research to your story?”

I remember being struck by the depth of listening. After nearly 3 hours of talking, here was someone with the ability to connect two quite different parts of my presentations, in ways that offered me new eyes. My story felt held. My experience felt important. Perhaps in this place, I would see myself, including my old self, in new ways. It was a moment, of care, of hope, and potentially of guidance in my research journey.

Fast forward some 13 months later. The interview in January 2015 resulted in my beginning as Principal in October 2015. I brought with me a significant piece of research, a book project on innovation and collaboration. Begun in July, it has absorbed all of my writing time in the period since.

Last week, the manuscript was sent to the editor. It will return, but in the meantime, I have some space to begin again. “What will you write?” asked my family on Sunday evening. (I have a habit of spending the first 45 minutes of every work day writing.) I sifted through a few possibilities. The next most important thing is two papers I have to present in Korea at the International Association of Mission Studies. The deadline for submission is 31 March. I chose one (the second is on how to understand Silence in mission), and got to writing.


I looked at my desk yesterday. I am writing on Christology in Papua New Guinea. My research involves reading art gallery publications about bark cloth. I laughed. “Could you return to your story?” was the question 13 months ago.

Well, my first new writing project in this role and I have. I have found myself, by a random set of circumstances, writing on my country of birth. I am listening to ABC recordings of PNG women singing. I am exploring theology expressed in visual, rather than written ways. I am bringing my years of study of Christology and post-colonial theology and literature to bear on my own story. I am reading Mark Brett’s Decolonizing God: The Bible in the Tides of Empire (Bible in the Modern World). He also is born in PNG. I am beginning to imagine an academic paper presented in Korea not on powerpoint but on bark cloth.

I sense freedom, grace and integration. Such are some of the benefits when we return to our story, when the personal is woven into the academic, when deep listening enables us to see and hear ourselves in new ways.

Posted by steve at 08:42 AM

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

“hapkas” theology as post-colonial theology

Some writing from today, part of my International Association Mission Studies paper (Fiction as missiology: an appreciation of religious change in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain”):

Theoretically, the relationship between Christianity and indigenous cultures has been understood in a number of ways. First, hagiographical. In this reading, missionaries are saints, divinely commissioned to enact God’s will. Second, oppositional. In this reading, mission is an “agent of the civilizing mission of imperialism” to quote Bill Ashcroft (Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific, 4). It is the destroyer of indigenous cultures. Third, transformational. This approach stands with the receiver as “a way of reading the engagements of the colonized with imperial power.” (Ashcroft, in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific, 4) The emphasis is on local empowerment, the ways that received messages are engaged and potentially transformed.

This third approach is tested in this paper. It will offer a reading of indigenous Papua New Guinean interaction with Christianity, arguing for a “hapkas” theology (borrowing a term used in The Mountain) as a distinct and creative ancestor Christology that empowers indigenous culture in creative responses to the received message of Christian mission.

Posted by steve at 08:34 PM

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Creative resource: Ira

Ira is a resource I picked up at Toitu Otago Settlers Musuem today. It is a set of small, handheld cards, about 2 cm by 6 cm. It is beautifully coloured on one side, with the same picture of a New Zealand landscape. On the other side, different for each card, is a Maori word and the English translation.


I thought it had potential as a creative spiritual resource. So I purchased it and brought it back to work.

Meeting my colleagues, I shuffled it, held it beautifully coloured side up and invited them to choose one. Each chose a card, turned it over, and read the word. Looking at them, it was obvious the word had personal significance, a helpful clarifying encouragement in the middle of a hot, tiring afternoon.

The word then became a benediction from me to them as they left at days end. “Enjoy being free.” “Go to be creative.”

I will use this as my Lenten discipline, choosing a word and prayerfully sitting with it.

It would also work well in group settings. You could turn one over and as an act of praise, invite the team to reflect on what that word looks like in the values of the team. Or share a story of how they have experienced that word. Or recall a Bible story that expresses the word.

It is a beautiful, indigenous, spirituality resource.

Posted by steve at 08:09 PM

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

complete not finished

I completed the Built for Change manuscript on Saturday. At 58,000 words and 11 chapters, it is a project I’m very pleased with. It is practical, filled with stories of change. It is probing, using Scripture, tradition and reason to respond to a range of important questions about fresh expressions innovation. Is Jesus an innovator built for change? How to understand the old in light of the new? How might we connect modern insights into leadership with the Biblical tradition? It is personal, an in-depth look at how I lead myself in innovative processes.

It has been very helpful in the transition from Principal Uniting College to Principal Knox College. At the same time, it has been demanding to write a book in what is essentially a 6 month period and I am very glad to have it behind me. Somehow completing it on Waitangi Day felt symbolic, another important step in the process of leaving Australia and earthing myself back in the richness of Aotearoa New Zealand. It is the last of the 27 pieces I wrote in Australia. I can stop “writing back reflectively” and start to think seriously about what it means to “write now” in this next season of my life.

It is complete, but not finished. It now moves into the hands of editors, who work with me on making the book a better book. The publishing company (Mediacom) have a reputation for moving rapidly, so it could well be out by the middle of the year.

Posted by steve at 05:19 AM

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Suffragette: A theological film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for February 2016.

A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Suffragette is compulsory viewing, a disturbing depiction of the power of patriarchy. The movie, directed by Sarah Gavron, is a fictionalised exploration of the fight for the right of women to vote in Great Britain. If follows Maud (Carey Mulligan), a working mother with a young child, who unexpectedly finds herself caught in a street protest. Amid, the shattered glass of a shop front window, she recognizes a fellow worker Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff.) Despite the protests of her husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw) and threats from Polcie Inspector Steed (Brendan Glesson), she steps into the battle for justice. Forced out of home, imprisoned, brutally force-fed while on hunger strike, she embarks on an increasingly desperate quest for equality.

The movie is bleak, shot in tones of brown and drab. It is apt, given the film’s final statistics, which note the painfully slow journey toward equality. While New Zealand is a world leader, it was not until 1971 that women in Switzerland could vote.

Three places in Suffragette invite specific theological reflection. First, is the matter of unanswered prayer. The first time she is arrested, Maud’s son, George (Adam Dodd), prayed she would come home. Imprisoned for a week, his faith is shaken, both by Maud’s absence and the lack of answer to his prayers.

Second, is the ethics of protest. Are there any circumstances in which protest should become violent? This is the question around which Suffragette pivots. After years of protest through legal and political avenues, change has not occurred. The response of Suffragette is pragmatic. “It is deeds, not words, that will gain the vote.” Christian tradition has always been divided on the role of violence in the face of injustice. Martin Luther King said no, while Bonhoeffer gave his life as a yes. Historians still debate whether the violence of the women’s suffrage movement was justified. Despite the turn to violence in Suffragette, it was another sixteen years before women were given that vote.

Third, is the place of women in the church. Suffragette is set in England in 1912. Theologian Anne Phillips in her 2011 book, The Faith of Girls: Children’s Spirituality and Transition to Adulthood argues (nearly a century later) that the church remains church gender blind. Disturbed that it is mainly men that write about the faith development of women, Phillips talks to young woman about their faith. The experience helps her read the Bible afresh. She discovers richness in the vulnerability of Lo-ruhamah (Hosea 1), courage in the actions of Namaan’s slave girl (2 Kings 5(, faith in the slave girl in Philippi (Acts 16) and sacrifice on the part of the daughter of Jarius (Mark 5). Each are pre-pubsecent girls in whom the values of God are made visible. Hence Suffragette remains both a historic and a living challenge to the church. Will it value the spirituality of women? Or will it remain a place in which, to quote Inspector Steed, “their husbands deal with them”?

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: forthcoming) and The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan: 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at

Posted by steve at 06:19 PM